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No Deal Yet, But Maybe An Opening

It's groundhog day — again — in Washington. Friday is playing out a lot like Thursday — that is, a lot of sound and fury, but very little clarity about what it all signifies.

Today — on the 11th day of the partial government shutdown — it was Senate Republicans' turn to meet with President Obama. They did and, like the House Republicans before them, said they had a productive meeting in which they talked about the outline of an agreement, but a deal was still elusive.

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, told Reuters she offered Obama a plan which would extend the debt ceiling for a short period and end the government shutdown in exchange for a repeal of a tax on medical devices.

She said Obama expressed interest but "did not endorse it."

Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, told The New York Times: "The president was willing to listen as well as give his point of view. So I think it was helpful."

NPR's S.V. Dáte reports that meanwhile, on the House side, members are indicating they will not "schedule a vote today on their idea of a short-term debt limit increase combined with a framework for continued discussions on larger budget issues."

Update at 4:12 p.m. ET. Constructive Talks Appreciated:

White House Spokesman Jay Carney said Obama and Boehner had a good talk on the phone today.

The two sides agreed to keep talking.

Carney was pressed on whether Obama would accept a deal to extend the debt ceiling for six weeks in exchange for the promise of negotiations over broader fiscal issues.

Striking a softer tone than in the past few weeks, Carney said Obama "appreciates the constructive nature" of the conversations and the GOP proposals, but that he still has some concerns about the plan.

"Without reading out details of conversations or phone calls, the president's position that the U.S. should not and the American people cannot pay a ransom in exchange for Congress doing its job remains as true today as it's been throughout this period," Carney said.

The bottom line, Carney said, is that Obama believes the threat of default should not be used as leverage for negotiations.

"The right thing to do is remove that gun from the table," Carney said.

Our Original Post Continues:

Thursday saw much sound and fury about resolving, at least for the short term, the political gridlock over the debt ceiling and the partial government shutdown. But it's not clear what, if anything, it all means.

Speculation is rife about what exactly went on in Thursday afternoon's closed-door White House meeting between top House Republicans and President Obama and whether it can produce a breakthrough.

Here's a sampling:

The New York Times:

"People familiar with the meeting said that Mr. Obama pressed Republicans to reopen the government, and that Republicans raised the possibility that financing could be restored by early next week if terms for broad budget negotiations could be reached.

Twenty Republicans, led by Speaker John A. Boehner, went to the White House at Mr. Obama's invitation after a day of fine-tuning their proposal to increase the Treasury Department's authority to borrow money to pay existing obligations through Nov. 22. The government is expected to reach its borrowing limit next week. In exchange, they sought a commitment by the president to negotiate a deal for long-term deficit reduction and a tax overhaul.

The president 'didn't say yes, didn't say no,' said Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin and chairman of the House Budget Committee. He added, 'We agreed to continue talking and continue negotiating.'"

The Wall Street Journal:

"According to a Democrat briefed on the meeting, Mr. Obama asked Republican leaders why the government needed to remain closed when both sides want to have budget discussions. Republicans said they would offer specific ideas for opening the government, which sent staff working into the night to discuss components of a compromise government spending bill."

The newspaper also noted:

"Just the glimpse of a path to avoiding an unprecedented U.S. default sent stocks soaring. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 323.09 points, or 2.2%, to 15126.07. Stocks also jumped higher in Asia Friday morning."

The Washington Post:

"After a 90-minute meeting at the White House, the two sides remained at odds over how and when to end the government shutdown — now in its 11th day — with Obama insisting that Republicans reopen federal agencies before negotiations over broader budget issues can begin.

In the Senate, top Republicans began crafting a proposal that would reopen the government and raise the federal debt limit for as long as three months — an approach closer to the terms Obama has set to end the standoff.

The developments meant that bipartisan negotiations were suddenly underway on two separate tracks Thursday after weeks of stalemate. Major questions remain, however, about the path ahead."

And from the National Journal:

"[Who's] making the greater concession? We'll likely find out over the next day or so. But it's obvious there is marginal movement toward the middle, in a foot-dragging way, from what had been two hard-line positions. Boehner, taking his cue from the tea-party sub-caucus in the House, had initially insisted on presidential concessions related to the start-up of Obamacare this month. He appears to be letting that slide, to the consternation of the tea party. Suddenly all the talk is about spending in general — entitlements and tax reform — not Obamacare, which Boehner and his team have come to accept that the president cannot budge on, given that it is his signature domestic achievement."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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